What Do I Yearn For?

A memorial reception with gluten-free or other diary-needs offerings carefully labeled, Friends Meeting at Cambridge, January, 2018

Walking to Meeting on Sunday, I passed a couple of  Ant “dockless” bicycles in front of Harvard’s Science Center, a new company that, like Hubway, the other bike-rental company in greater Boston, uses crossbar-free bikes. Exclusively. “Girls’ bikes,” we used to say. (When I was a kid, I wore dresses. That crossbar was highly inconvenient!)

During the unusually long quiet I found myself deeply moved that Ant’s and Hubway’s bikes are inclusive, accommodating, and account for “the least of these.” (Someone in a pencil skirt, a kilt, a sari? Anyone for whom swinging a leg over a crossbar could be challenging?)

More came to me during the quiet: I remembered a concert a while back, given by Daniel Parker, a former Quaker Voluntary Service fellow, now studying piano at Julliard. (Daniel’s concert was a fund-raiser for QVS.) Before he began Bach’s Goldberg variations, he asked the fifty-or-so-member audience if we wanted him to play straight through or if we’d prefer a break. Some of us—perhaps the same demographic who’d prefer not to swing our leg over a bike’s crossbar?—indicated we’d like a break. “I think we need to respect that,” Daniel said. There was pushback: “Put it to a vote!” someone called out. Gently but firmly, Daniel reiterated that we all needed to accommodate those who’d expressed need.

“What do I yearn for?” I have been asking myself that question a lot lately. Sunday I was offered a glimpse: I yearn to live in an accommodating, inclusive world, a world where day-to-day decisions are made after asking: How will this effect the poor, the homeless, the undocumented, the abused?

Sound good?

 

 

 

 

Random Acts of Beauty, Kindness

Between Nor’easters, Somerville, MA, March, 2018

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes—especially now—a news story is not the news story. Sometimes what seems significant isn’t. All the time, stuff just happens and making meaning of all that stuff can be exhausting and confusing. (And, must say, New England’s disquieting, alarming, climate-changed weather—for months!—hasn’t helped!)

Just coming out of one of those confusing and exhausting times, I’m moved this morning to lift up three instances, recently, when Spirit broke through the fog:

  1. Friday night, at our monthly Somerville worship-group gathering, a dear, long-time F/friend offered this query: “What do you yearn for?”  Try it. Let me know if simply posing that question to yourself is grounding. Do you find that coming up with An Answer not that important? That it’s the process of asking yourself, opening yourself up to look at, to wonder about your deepest hunger, that matters? (Thank you, Chris.)
  2. One of the things I yearn for, apparently, is declarative sentences about love. “Because he’s a twelve-year-old boy. Dogs love those.” (Thank you, Wes Anderson.) Bonus: this declarative sentence is voiced by a female.
  3. Random, anonymous acts of beauty and kindness. Like three packages of Jello, each a different color, artfully arranged on front yard wall. (Thank you, Neighbor, whoever you are.)

“CONTEXT!”

Front page of the local section, The News & Advance, Lynchburg, VA, October 12, 2008

Dr. Lynda Woodruff, my mentor and friend, died last week. Hearing this awful news, I registered both gut-punched grief and that my first question—Did she die because she’d received inadequate healthcare?—came to me only because I’d been schooled by Lynda.

A woman of “grit and salt” (her words), Lynda schooled so many! My first tutorial with this fierce, brilliant woman happened after I’d mailed her a draft of a book manuscript which, eventually, with her guidance, became Way Opens. “Context!” she’d written in bold letters on that first, pathetic draft. Meaning: You neither know the backstory nor understand its implications. Meaning: You’re a clueless white woman. Meaning: Do your homework.

So I began. And, with Spirit’s guidance, keep on keeping’ on. (Although I already know I’ll earn a C+ at best. )

Something else I note with deep sorrow. “The burden of the race” resting on her shoulders since she was thirteen, over the years Lynda “just got tired.” (Her words.)  Can you imagine how exhausting, how debilitating our current political nightmare must have been for her?

Rest in peace, dear Lynda.

 

 

Who Is My Neighbor?

Maybe another foot of snow due tomorrow, maybe another opportunity to use our “neighborhood snowblower.” After a very snowy winter a couple of years ago, a bunch of us chipped in to buy one. The next year? It collected dust in our carriage house. But it’s been worth every collective penny this winter; that’s for sure. (Is it wishful thinking to believe that since that gas-powered sidewalk-clearer is shared by several households, our neighborhood reduces its carbon footprint? Anyone? Anyone?)

Who is my neighbor?  Buying a snowblower together, sharing ripe tomatoes and zucchini together from the raised-bed vegetable garden in their (more sunny than ours) back yard. These are my neighbors. But what about that woman whose anguished, Haitian-Creole lament woke me up yesterday morning as she walked past my house? Isn’t she my neighbor, too?

What am I called to do?

 

 

In Plain Sight

“Dead End.” Street sign seen through my window during Nor’easter # 2 (of 3, so far.) March 8, 2018

New England weather such as it right now, I’m reading more. Needing to replenish my books-to-read queue, between storms I stopped by The Book Rack, a funky, used-bookstore in Arlington, MA. Perusing its chock-a-block “Classics” section, I spotted a paperback edition of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and, vaguely remembering something about its feminist pedigree, gladly paid a whopping $3.00 for Chopin’s “masterpiece”—as declared by its faded, blue, time-worn cover.

The Awakening was first published in 1899, shocking Victorian readers with its frank acknowledgement of female sexuality. So there’s that. Kate Chopin, born in 1851, is a stunningly beautiful writer. So there’s that. The Awakening details how wealthy, New Orleans-based Creole families vacation pre-air conditioning. So there’s that.

There this, too:

Madame Lebrun was busily engaged at the sewing machine. A little black girl sat on the floor, and with her hands worked the treadle of the machine. [Madame Lebrun] does not take any chances which may be avoided of imperiling her health . . . The sewing machine made a resounding clatter in the room; it was a ponderous, bygone make. In the lulls, Robert and his mother exchanged bits of desultory conversation.  (p. 38, AVON BOOKS, 1972.)

What are we to make of this? Is that sarcastic remark regarding Madame Lebrun’s delicate health meant to elicit sympathy for the little black girl producing such resounding clatter? Maybe. A child performing a function most contemporaries of Madame Lebrun—who owns the resort where these Creole families vacation—would have performed themselves? Perhaps. So is Chapin slyly asking us to consider that child?

I wish I knew. Definitively. Because I so long to believe that this ground-breaking novelist saw her sewing room scene with woke eyes. But that Chopin supplies that little, black girl with the plainest of adjectives—I mean, c’mon! The sewing machine got fancier labels—but no name tells us something, I think. And that one family’s nanny is simply the quadroon says the same thing, too, I’m afraid.

But here’s the thing. Once I understood that a (probably very hot and thirsty and exhausted) little girl was in that sewing room, too, she participated in every paragraph I read. That nameless child started when, suddenly, Robert, a young man in his twenties, loudly whistled out the opened window to his brother, three stories below. Silently she took in Robert’s and his mother’s conversation—and, perhaps, gauged whatever they discussed in terms of more hardship for herself? She may have even noticed what Robert’s mother did not: that at the mention of Mrs. Pontellier—whose sexual awakening is what this book’s all about—the besotted young man blushed, maybe. Got flustered, maybe. (Chopin merely had him suddenly leave.)

I see you, little black girl. I see you, quadroon.